With the Biden Administration preparing to release an updated National Defense Strategy (NDS) early this year, former Department of Defense officials stressed that sharing data and technology with allies more easily should be a key part of the next NDS.


Retired Gen. James Cartwright, a former commander of DoD Strategic Command; Ellen Lord, former DoD under secretary for acquisition and sustainment; and retired Gen. David Petraeus, former CIA director and former commander at DoD central command, shared how data and tech sharing should factor into the next NDS at an Atlantic Council virtual event Jan. 5.


“I think there has to be some more substance to this discussion about allies,” Cartwright said at the panel. “If we don’t start sharing unprocessed sensor data with all of our allies and friends if we don’t take the gloves off of the commercial sensing and analytic community – so that they can actually do what they can do, instead of being constrained every time for fear of giving up some piece of intellectual property or something – we’re not going to be successful if we’re not successful with our allies. We cannot do this on our own.”


“We’ve got to look more towards how do we share, but through our own devices take best advantage and competition about how we use that knowledge,” he added. “And to me, I see us in a cat-bird seat for being able to do that. But we do have a cultural issue of denying people access to the knowledge and controlling yourself, and that just doesn’t work anymore.”


Lord agreed with the need for data sharing but emphasized that easily transferring technology to allies is also necessary and should be an important part of the next NDS.


“We talked about allies and partners, we talked about never going to the fight alone, yet we are not leveraging the defense industrial bases – the manufacturing capability, all the know-how out there,” Lord said. “And until we have some clear objectives that are measurable in terms of making technology releasable. And then being able to export without getting too tied up in it or to our closest allies and partners, I don’t think we’re moving forward correctly.”


The current NDS was implemented in 2018 under President Trump. Current National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan confirmed that a new one is on the way in an interview with Defense One in December.


Petraeus said he considers the current NDS “quite revolutionary” but said it is more important to implement this next one incrementally than more generally providing incremental change. He expressed the most concern about the procurement abilities for the DoD in relation to the NDS.


“The question is what happens on Capitol Hill when it comes to procurement; this is really the central issue,” Petraeus said. “The NDS, in truth, is not a strategy; it’s not in the ways and means. It’s more certainly a lot of discussion of ends, and a bit of ways, but the means actually gets determined across the Potomac.”


“When the actual DoD and the services come to grips with what it is that they’re going to buy, what they’re going to pay for, that’s where the Revolution should be,” he added.


Lord echoed this point and once again emphasized the importance technology will likely play in the next NDS.


“I think it’s all about technology, and there’s an imperative to implement new technologies so that we have capability downrange, ready to be used,” Lord said. “The key is, from my point of view, not having acquisition authorities. I think the Hill has done a pretty good job of giving the authorities the department … but then you go back to the Hill and the oversight. Obviously, they have the imperative to be good custodians of the taxpayer dollar, which often is translated to mean, ‘Tell me where every dollar is going to go, when it’s going to go, and what’s going to happen where?’


“Technology doesn’t work that way,” she added. “So, I think the real key here is a focus on fielding critical technology. Get it in the hands of the warfighters to experiment with; don’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough.”

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Lamar Johnson
Lamar Johnson
Lamar Johnson is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.